Liberia: Senate: ‘US$20K for Each Family of Niko Ivanka Victims’

Flashback: AFL Soldiers rescue a Niko Ivanka shipwreck survivor.   

... Resolves to hold NPA and Maritime responsible for dereliction and negligence regarding the deaths of 17 people the sunk vessel

The National Port Authority and Liberia Maritime Authority have been ordered by the Senate to pay US$20,000 in compensation to each of the families of those who died on the sunken Niko Ivanka Vessel.

The Senate mandate, which is expected to be communicated to President George Weah soon, would result in the US$20,000 compensation each for the 17 people who lost their lives on the vessel when it sank off the coast between Marshall City and Little Buchanan in July of 2021.

“The Senate has decided that its decision will be forwarded to President Weah, after it determined, based on an investigation of its relevant committees, that the dereliction of duties and responsibilities and the negligence of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA) and the National Port Authority (NPA) contributed immensely to the sinking of the Niko Ivanka,” the Senate said. 

The mandate comes after the NPA had admitted in August of last year that it approved the sailing of the vessel, which sank with 29 passengers on board, killing 17,  while the value of properties lost in the shipping disaster remains unknown. The NPA admission was blamed on a unilateral decision taken by the port’s pier supervisor, George McCay, to permit the vessel to sail, despite a detention notice from the LiMA, prohibiting the ship from sailing. 

The vessel, which got its license in 2018, was not permitted to carry passengers but only cargo and, at the time of the incident, was deemed unfit for sea by the maritime authority. The money, according to the Senate, is intended to compensate for the loss of support, consort, and companionship being suffered by the victims’ families and in addition to the US$100k that was provided by the government to the families for burial.

If the Senate request is adhered to by President Weah, it would bring relief to families of those who lost their loved ones in the tragedy.  The families had previously accused the NPA and the LiMA of dodging responsibility for the deaths of their loved ones, even though the former admitted to allowing the ship to sail.  It also comes after victims’ families continued to raise contentions that the government has paid little attention to their plights, particularly issues that have to do with investigating the deadly voyage of the Niko Ivanka since it was deemed unworthy for sea. 

The Senate, in its investigation report, which was released in November of last year, established that NPA, whose statutory mandate it is to manage the Free Port of Monrovia and all Sea Ports of the republic, was derelict and negligent in the performance of its duties and responsibilities by allowing the vessel to routinely sail with passengers even though it is licensed as only a cargo-carrying vessel.

“After gathering facts during the investigation, the Joint Committee, in consideration of the totality of all that transpired in handling the Niko Ivanka’s situation, the uncoordinated approach in handling the issue before the vessel was allowed to leave the Port, the conflict of interest identified and the lack of coordination, eventually led to an unfortunate situation that could have been avoided,” the committee report said.

It says then that the LiMA should be held responsible for licensing the ship, which was not sea-worthy in the first place.

The Niko Ivanka vessel set sail from the Freeport of Monrovia on July 17 for Maryland County but sank a few hours into the trip. The Liberian-made ship was commissioned in 2018, and in a space of two years, it sank off the coast of Marshall City, about six nautical miles from the Freeport of Monrovia.  It used to regularly sail between the Free Port of Monrovia and the Port of Harper with cargo and, after a prolonged period of red flags, the LiMA on April 28, 2021, placed a detention notice on the ship, deeming it “not fit to go to sea”.

But that order did not stop the vessel from sailing. Survivors of the Niko Ivanka then described their experience from the sunken vessel as a “horrifying” experience. They reported that about two hours after leaving, the ship began to take in water but, despite the sign, the captain insisted on sailing on the high sea.

According to them, the captain and his crew were the first to jump off the ship as it began to sink.